“Merciful like the Father” is the motto of the Year of Mercy. What a great reminder for our fatherless culture! What a great challenge and reminder for men on how to live as spiritual fathers.
Fatherlessness is a worldwide pandemic (43% in the US), devastating the culture, family, children, and men in particular, making it harder to experience God as love or to even hear about God. With the sustained Marxist and feminist attacks on the family, marriage, and gender, it does not look as if things will improve anytime soon. But the world’s greatest need right now is to experience the Father’s mercy to undo the effects of fatherlessness.
The greatest antidote to fatherlessness already exists in our Catholic faith: Jesus reveals God as Abba (Papa, Daddy), and since God is our spiritual father, all Catholic men (young or old, single or married) are called to live out their identity as heroic spiritual fathers. If Catholic men were to live this out, the effects of fatherlessness—which produces the culture of death—would be stopped in its tracks.
So what do we need for this journey of mercy? For us to “be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful,” we must experience this mercy. Pope Francis says:
“The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a ‘visceral’ love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.”
If we are to be led into this “concrete reality,” we need prayer, confession, and relationships to help us encounter the Father of mercies!
A client I will call Steve was fatherless by the age of six when his parents divorced. Even when he was with either parent, he spent a lot of time alone. His father was into pornography, and Steve was exposed by age eight. Steve’s father was a verbally abusive bully. Steve was always working to be loved and lived in fear of his moody and unpredictable father. Steve’s faith was ignited in his late teens, but he carried the burden of working for his father’s love into his relationship with God. He is now a married father of four. He is struggling to love his kids as he wants to but feels stuck. Pornography is still an occasional problem. He feels unlovable, as if he is never good enough—perfect lies from the Accuser. Steve is my typical client who knows God’s love and mercy in his head but hasn’t experienced the “concrete reality” of God’s tender, indulgent mercy in his heart.
In counseling, it is the relationship that heals. In pastoral counseling, that relationship also brings the love and mercy of God into the deepest, darkest places in our hearts where “everything is bound and loosed” (CCC 2843). Listening and empathy let Steve know I was in his world—incarnationally—not to judge but to bring God’s mercy and love to mend his broken heart. We prayed, imagining Jesus’ telling him the truth: “You are my beloved son, a gift, a delight to me, and this is not based on your behavior. You are forgiven.” I encouraged Steve to go to confession regularly, especially when anger or lustful temptations overcame him. As Steve experienced in his heart his true identity as a son, he began to live out this love in his hands as a physical and spiritual husband and father. His wife was more grateful and his kids listened to him more. He got them involved in the St. Vincent de Paul society, donating toys and clothes. They were excited about doing something for others. Steve still struggles but is doing well.
Mercy is the essence God’s fatherhood, and for men it is the essence of spiritual and physical fatherhood. It is the nature of God’s mercy and love that, once received, it must be given to others; it is a law in the economy of salvation. God’s mercy must be fruitful! Spiritual fathers must be fruitful—we are called to have spiritual children: “Go and make disciples.” Catholics seem uncomfortable sharing the Faith with friends, but we easily “evangelize” when we talk about a good movie we’ve seen!
The Call to Action: Be Loved and Challenged!
- Pray daily and meditate on the mercy of our Abba and your identity as his son. You must knock down the obstacles to experiencing this in your heart.
- Go to Confession regularly to receive his mercy deeply, and meditate on the rejoicing and delight that occurs when you return to the Father’s house!
- If you are caught in an addiction of any kind, get help!
- The Ultimate Challenge: Go out and demonstrate the mercy of God. Start with your own friends and family, and then go to the people on the fringes. Stop the Culture of Death: be the spiritual fathers you are!